Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects to economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Katherine Eckam makes this connection in Kinshasa, Congo. This current event was reported in Thomson Reuters international multimedia news agency on March 8, 2017, under the title, “Congo risks 50 percent drop in power output due to low rainfall”, by Aaron Ross. This is likely real news, based on Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences providing a lesson on environments of Africa, which included an article on low rainfall in Congo, by Dr. Tanya Furman at here.

The news about the lack of rainfall causing low amounts of power output relates to water resources engineering in the specific areas of hydropower. The key message in this article is the impacts of climate change range farther than just a decrease in rainfall. Precipitation has become a power and electricity source that Congo has become dependent on due to advances in hydropower technology. A lack of rainfall causes a decrease in water levels, which decreases water head and thus power. This lack of power would affect many aspects of Congo’s way of life and economy. In my critique of this news story, I think the article has missed important information on why exactly power would decrease if rainfall continues to decrease. They explain that Congo is dependent on hydropower for electricity but fail to explain what variables hydropower is dependent on. They also mention at the end of the article that there are plans to build a new dam on the Congo River but don’t explain how this dam will be able to provide sufficient power in lieu of the lack of precipitation while the existing dam is failing.

Figure 1. Grand Inga dam in Democratic Republic of the Congo. A new 4,800 MW dam on the Congo River as part of an envisioned 44,000 MW Grand Inga project could compensate for power outages.

Economic, environmental, and societal issues are the three key factors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s’ Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper addressing climate change. The paper sees reducing emissions from deforestation and use of hydropower for electricity as crucial key initiatives to contribute to sustainable development in the country, which includes Kinshasa, Congo. The shortage of rainfall in Kinshasa, Congo relates to environmental issues, because the scarce rainfall has caused the Congo River to reach its lowest level in more than a century. The country’s environment minister sees climate change as the cause of this scarcity. The mining chamber has reached out for the country’s energy sector to address the problem and find a solution for this environmental dilemma. According to the article, the government responded with plans to build a new 4,800 MW dam on the Congo River as part of a 44,000 MW Grand Inga project. Charles Kyona, president of the chamber of mines in Congo, reported the societal effects of this rain shortage in the article when he stated that the miners do not have the means to work effectively without the electricity produced by hydropower. This could mean the citizens of Kinshasa could face not only a deficiency of water and electricity, but losses of jobs as well. Hydropower relates to economic issues because the country is dependent on hydropower for nearly all its electricity (Figure 1). A lack of rainfall, and thus hydropower, could mean a loss of 350-400 MW of power of the 850 MW currently produced. Medard Katakana, an official of the National Electricity Company, told Isango (2017) of VOA news, “We fear that if we don’t have enough water, we would have to stop the turbines because they cannot function when the water is below a certain level.” This would affect not only the copper industry, which produces the most copper in all of Africa, but also all other businesses currently keeping Kinshasa’s economy afloat. The cause-effect between rainfall shortage and impact to the economy of Kinshasa occurs when there is no longer enough water to turn the turbines that generate more than half of the area’s power output, taking away the ability of copper industry miners to work effectively and leaving businesses without electricity.

References

Isango, Eddie. “DRC Faces Power Shortage Caused By Drought”. VOA. N.p., 2017. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.

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